1. Two Types of Darkness
He was a good-looking boy, and very polite, too. He had such a nice smile. When I met him, on that fateful night, he exuded power. He was on the cusp of something, that was obvious, but I had no idea what. That was the night I finally faced with the monster hiding behind that lovely smile.
It was late in the summer of 1946. The war was over, but Britain was still struggling in the aftermath. It was his idea that we met. He wrote to me, to the address I'd given him, and he told me that he had made his decision. He referred in great detail to a conversation we'd had six years earlier. Although we had corresponded during the intervening years, I had met him only once before. I naturally assumed that he wanted me to share my gift with him. I was flattered, and willing.
You may think that it isn't a gift and that, like him, I too am a monster. I am; I know that. But, at the time, I thought of my condition as precious gift.
I have killed. Of course I have killed. Killing is what I am, it's what I do. At least, it is what I was; if I am honest, I have no idea what I am now. How many people have I killed? I honestly do not know. It must be several hundred. In fact, as I think about it, it must be more than a thousand.
It sounds like a lot, but I have been killing for a long time. That isn't meant as an excuse. It's simply a fact. I must face the facts. Is it more than two thousand? I don't think so, not yet. Hopefully, it will never reach that number.
I met him on the harbour side at Whitby, at one hour before midnight. He had suggested the meeting place in his letter. Perhaps he was trying to be funny when he did so, although he never really showed any sign of having a sense of humour.
He was hiding in the shadows, but I could hear his heartbeat and I strolled towards the noise. As I strode along the wharf towards him, I looked unconcernedly up into the sky. The moon was full, and it was slowly climbing towards its zenith. I stopped nest to his hiding place, turned, and faced him.
He didn't seem surprised by the fact that I'd noticed him. After we'd said a polite hello, he silently led me up the one-hundred ninety-nine steps up to the remains of Whitby Abbey. The summer night was clear and cloudless and, on our right, the ruins were dark and jagged shadows silhouetted against the stars.
He led me past the Abbey and on to a bench on the cliff top. We sat alongside each other, but we were not sitting together. There was nothing friendly or welcoming in his posture. He was definitely discouraging any physical contact. I wanted to touch him, but I knew that he would have to be the instigator. There was a chasm between us; I was hoping to bridge it.
He stared out into the night, out to the horizon. I followed his gaze, and tried to chart the faint curve where the darkness of the star-sprinkled sky met the black and treacherous sea. The line separating them was no more than a slight change in colour. At that distant point, two different types of darkness met and seemed to touch. It was, however, an illusionary proximity.
I moved my gaze closer to the shore, to a point where the bright moonlight shimmered and danced on the waves. To my eyes, which are accustomed to the dark, it was a wonderful sight. I said so.
'Isn't it beautiful?' I asked him. 'The moon reflected on the sea.'
He thought that I was fishing for a compliment. I probably was; he was having that effect on me.
'Not as beautiful as you,' he told me.
I smiled at him and he took my hand. He did not flinch when he touched me. Most people do, but he was not "most people", he was different. At the time, I didn't realise how different.
You have to realise how he made me feel. His gentle touch almost overwhelmed me. His hand was full of warmth, full of life, full of blood. He was so very much alive.
I know now what he was, what he became, and what he did, but that was later. When we sat on that cliff top, he was still in his teens. At the time, so far as I knew, he'd done nothing. He had grown into a handsome young man, and I liked him. He was clever, and witty, and charming, and he certainly knew how to charm me. I'm not the only one to have been charmed by him.
He iwas/i charming. Perhaps he was always a monster and I simply didn't realise. I have thought about him often since that meeting. Now, with the benefit of almost sixty years of hindsight, I believe that his charm was simply a mask, a necessary disguise, and that when he became powerful enough, he simply discarded the mask. Nevertheless, his actions that night forced me to look at myself afresh.
That was the night everything changed for me. The Muggles' war had lasted for over six years, and I'd grown well-fed and complacent. I had not realised how far I had slipped into self-satisfaction and over-confidence. When I met him on that cliff top, I thought that I was wise, that I knew everything. I thought that I was at the top of the food chain. He showed me that I was not.
But, I digress. I am getting ahead of myself.
I sat at his side on that cliff top and accepted his compliment. As I did so, I turned to examine him. His hair was slicked back in the style which was fashionable at the time. He was wearing a blue pinstripe suit, a demob suit, and he looked every inch the young ex-serviceman. I was in a suit too. Mine was a slate grey pinstripe, the pencil skirt was calf-length, my hat was a wide-brimmed navy blue thing, and my stockings were sheer silk. Women's fashions were so much more elegant in those days. They were a little drab, perhaps, but the war had only just ended and the Muggles weren't feeling particularly bright or cheerful. At least I was no longer required to wear the movement restricting corsets and petticoats of half-a-century earlier.
I squeezed his hand, not too tightly, but tightly enough to remind him what I was.
'You're strong, aren't you?' he said, smiling. He showed neither pain nor fear.
'A lot stronger than most Muggles, and many witches and wizards,' I told him.
'How old are you?' he asked.
'Tom!' I said, shocked. 'You must never ask a lady her age. You should know that! You are such a naughty boy.' I paused and looked into his face. He gave me his most self-depreciating smile.
'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I'm simply curious, Camelia. I ask too many questions, I always have. I did the same the first time we met, but that's because I want answers.'
'I'm twenty-one, Tom,' I told him. 'I will always be twenty-one. Don't you know that?'
He chuckled and squeezed my hand. 'And you don't look a day older than twenty-one, Camelia,' he told me. 'But, when were you born? Where were you born? Tell me a little about yourself.'
'I was born on the 12th of August 1766, in Transylvania,' I told him, suddenly nostalgic for the old country. 'To me, and to my compatriots, it will always be Transylvania. Nevertheless, when I left the country, many years later, the Muggles were already calling it the Kaisertum Österreich. Who knows what they are calling it now. No doubt, now that this latest conflict is over, the Muggles are once again redrawing their national boundaries. I find it difficult to keep track of such things. Do you know, I think that's why I like these islands so much; here, there are no significant land borders to be redrawn.'
'You are one hundred and eighty years old today, Camelia,' Tom told me. He was laughing. 'Had you really forgotten your own birthday?'
I gave a squeak of amazement. He had caught me by surprise at our only previous meeting too, but in a very different way. Even when I told him my birth date, I did not make the connection. I did not realise what day it was. Why should I? My birthday was unimportant. I had no one to celebrate it with. It was simply another meaningless day. In retrospect, I am certain that he had done a lot of research. He certainly corresponded with me regularly for six years, long enough to be able to carry out a detailed investigation of my life. I'd written him dozens of letters, and I began to wonder what I had told him without intending to.
'Happy birthday, Camelia,' he said. He drew his wand, conjured a bouquet of red and white roses in midair, caught them, and presented them to me with a flourish. They were fresh and beautiful and their perfume was pungent and heady.
'Not camellias?' I asked, as I smiled my thanks. 'Over the years, the majority of my suitors have given me camellias. They seem to think that it's fitting.'
'Really?' he said. 'I am surprised. Roses are the loveliest of flowers; their beauty and fragrance are unsurpassed. Nothing else I could offer you would be enough. The white are your skin, which is perfect unblemished porcelain, even after almost two centuries. The red are for the ruby of your pouting, kissable lips.' He leaned forwards, and for a moment I thought that he was going to kiss me, as I had kissed him all those years before. He didn't. Instead, he whispered his final sentence in my ear. 'The thorns are a reminder that your ageless beauty has a sharp side.'
He raised his thumb in front of my eyes. He had pricked himself on a thorn and a single drop of his blood glistened wetly in front of my eyes. I licked my lips. The shining red sphere was a tiny, juicy red berry awaiting my bite; it was the finest and most full-bodied of red wines; it was the only thing which could quench my always raging thirst. I moved forwards to lick the blood, but he snatched his hand away and sucked the blood himself. I came close to losing control. I bared my teeth and snarled.
'I don't really like the taste of blood,' he said, observing his now clean thumb. 'Do you? It seems to me that it is a craving. Can you control it?'
'Control it?' I asked. The hunger was growing within me, the smell of blood, the sight of it, was making me yearn for a taste. I put on my haughtiest expression and remained calm. 'Of course I can control it,' I assured him.
He raised an eyebrow. 'Liar!' he said harshly. 'It is a hunger, an unquenchable need. I have studied the documentation, Camelia. Last century, in Whitechapel, the man the Muggles called Jack was one of you. He was a ravenous beast.'
'He was an aberration,' I said.
'An aberration you created, Camelia,' he told me.
'How in Vlad's name do you know that?' I asked. I didn't deny it. It is pointless denying the truth.
'Study,' he told me. 'You'd be astonished at the things I have discovered. The man Jack's crimes were so bloody that the Ministry was forced to enact new laws. Because of it, your kind are all licensed and catalogued. How your former friends must hate you. Because of you the Ministry insist on knowing the location of every one of your resting places. They have the right to investigate you whenever they desire. You are in a cage, Camelia, but I will never be caged.'
I stared at him; his self confidence was astonishing, he was not afraid of me, not in the slightest.
'I know all of your secrets, Camelia,' he told me. 'You are better at fighting your urges than most of your kind, but you are driven by your lust for blood. You won't have mine.'
'Be very careful, Tom,' I warned him. He was beginning to make me angry.
'I have been,' he assured me. 'I have been very careful indeed, Camelia. Diagon Alley, Inverness, Auchtermuchty, Litchfield, Conwy, Penzance, Winchelsea.' I listened in horror as he listed every location I had given to the Ministry in order to retain my freedom. Somehow, he knew the locations of my properties, my bolt-holes, my sanctuaries. 'They are all gone, and so are the ones you tried to hide from the Ministry.'
I would have struck, but I was too late. His wand, fresh from conjuring those distracting roses, was on my chest.
'Avada Kedavra,' he said softly.
As I looked into his face, I remembered our first meeting.